Redskins return to the hardwood

Loudon High School’s J.D. Thaxton drives to the basket May 29 during a summer practice session.

The Loudon High School boys basketball team is back on the court and getting ready for a new year following a historic season that saw the Redskins finish 24-4.

The Redskins kicked off the summer May 28-29 with their second kids camp under head coach Josh Graves.

Players were able to teach younger athletes techniques and fundamentals to help in skills development.

“We had about 46 for camp, which is a good number,” Graves said. “We just work on a lot of fundamental stuff, and essentially it builds community. Obviously, it’s a fundraiser for us, but it builds community between us and the kids. It’s great for them and they love it. It makes my boys take a leadership role. We worked on dribbling, passing, shooting, defense — anything we could work on, we did it these two days.”

Immediately following camp, the team went back to work to get ready for the 2019-20 campaign.

Graves believes depth will be a strength for the Redskins in the upcoming season.

“I think with us, we should have a lot more depth this year than we did last year,” he said. “It’s finding guys and putting them in the right spots. We don’t have to worry about foul trouble right now anyways. I think the biggest thing is making sure we’re on the same page and we understand even when December and January comes around, we’ve got a lot of guys that we’re comfortable with rolling out. We’re trying to find the best spot for guys and where they need to be. We’re trying to find a couple of groups that can go out and compete.”

Although the Redskins have added new faces, chemistry should not be an issue.

“We’ve known them about our whole lives, so it’s not really any different,” Donovan Blankenship, LHS junior point guard, said. “We just brought them in like they’re our own, so they’re not really any different. They’re still part of our family, so we just took them in.”

The Redskins have primarily worked on fundamentals and scrimmaged, which has allowed new players and incoming freshmen the opportunity to learn the playbook and adapt to high school.

“We’ve played a lot of pick-up,” Blankenship said. “Since we’ve got some new guys, we’ve had some bigger bodies that we’ve been able to play with. We usually don’t get to play with some bigger guys, but this year we’ve actually got some. It’s fun to play with them some, I guess.”

Graves believes summer is critical for basketball.

“I think summer is huge,” he said. “It’s fun and it’s kind of like AAU in a sense — you go play a bunch of games in a day. We’ll go to (Middle Tennessee State University) and stay the night. It’s not as pressure packed, but you’ll find a few games that get that way. I think it’s good for us because it gives guys a chance to show whether they’re up to snuff or not at the varsity level. It kind of lets us see where we’re at as individuals and as a team. Right off the bat, we play South Doyle and Webb, so we’re going to see where we rank, that’s for sure.”

The Redskins added two football players to the roster — Noah Burnette and Tyler Whitfield.

Both are big bodies and will create mismatches in the paint against opponents in District 5-2A.

“We added some size with two seniors,” Graves said. “They’re some big bodies, which gives us nine seniors. We got a lot of bodies that can fill a lot of different places and I’m excited about that. We didn’t have a true big last year and I wish Noah and Tyler could’ve played last year. Even a kid like Tyler, he can play in space and a lot of people don’t know that about him. He can handle the ball and shoot it. I’m excited to see what they can add to us.”

Graves is also optimistic about other veterans, including J.D. Thaxton and Drew Jackson.

“We’ve got some stretch guys like J.D. that can play that four,” Graves said. “Then you’ve got a guy like Drew, who I can put anywhere and he’ll help us. I’m excited to see how it all plays out.”

The Redskins will attend summer camps at Maryville College and MTSU before hosting a play day June 18 against McMinn County and Carter high schools.